cuba libre

March 12th 2013 Comments: 11 Topics: ,

For me, the notion of visiting Cuba is akin to sneaking into Boo Radley’s home – forbidden, possibly dangerous and alluringly exotic.
Therefore, I jumped at the chance when a friend of mine told me he was putting together a group of architects and designers to visit our long-snubbed neighbor. Though only 90 miles away from the US, it’s like visiting another faraway planet.2013-03-09_0004

Some preconceptions I had of Havana were true, most were not. Yes, the ancient American automobiles still hulk along the city streets looking like props from a zombie production of Grease. What I was not expecting was the distinct European loveliness that permeates the city. As far as Latin American cities go, it is much more Buenos Aires than Mexico City. Apply to that the decay and neglect from poverty and harsh tropical climate and the result is a bewitching faded gem; a tattered sequined gown still worn with dignity and glory. And the people – wonderful spirits living daily, ever hopeful, loving and ever prideful of their homeland.  We could not have felt more welcomed into their realm.  This is but a brief album of our journey. We returned from our fantastic waking dream with full eyes and replete hearts.

Various scenes from around the city (I often felt just like the peeking tourist in the last photo).

Grand plaza scenes ever witnessed by humble tenement dwellings.
A vist to the massive stone fort Castillo de la Real Fuerza that sternly protected Havana from foreign invaders (Bobby McAlpine, however, was granted full entry).
2013-03-09_0009 The ornate Art Deco splendor of the Bacardi building.  The palace that rum built.
Richard Neutra’s design for a Swiss-born family’s vacation home.  It serves now as the Swiss ambassador’s official house.
We visited a privately-owned restaurant set amidst the ruin of a dilapidated ancestral home. With its crumbling plasterwork, spiderwebs of exposed wiring and complete absence of window glass, this place took our breath away. Bobby said this kind of beauty could never exist in the US. If a city inspector set foot on the property and enforced one code violation or a health restriction, the magic would be forever ruined.
The buildings of Havana University.  We fell in love with the classical courtyard lovingly holding an enormous Banyan tree.

The vaults at the enormous cemetery Colon represented all sorts of architectural styles.
Greg Tankersley and his wife Mary Robin Jurkiewicz
Alejandro Alonso, an architect and scholar of Art Deco in Havana, gave us a guided tour of some of the splendid examples of this ornate style.  Alejandro is the author of Havana Deco.
A whimsical Tim Burton-esque home rendered entirely in mosaics.  The artistry of a Cuban imagination run wild.
Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, the premier specialist of the Modern style and the author of The Havana Guide: Modern Architecture, led us on a tour of the Instituto Superior de Arte, where Cuba’s leading artists are educated.  A portion of this school (Dance and Theatre) was abandoned mid-construction in the 1960s and now sits a bucolic Modern ruin.


The ragged mutts that freely roam the city of Havana are tagged by a small piece of paper that proclaims protection by the Historical Commission.  Socialism at its best.


  1. Jon Blunt, ASID says:

    What amazing photos! You have such a vision for striking imagery. There are so many things here about Cuba that I have never heard anyone talk about. It is such a shame that they are so close yet so far away.

  2. d2zen says:

    Stunning little summary gem of what must have been an extraordinary journey. Loved your description of the house interior. A friend had visited and returned without photos or active verbs, so I was especially interested in your impressions! I’d welcome a Cuba, Part II post with more sights, sounds, smells, flavors. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing.

  3. Susan S says:

    Quite the melting pot of architecture! And protected street dogs? As you said, a “faraway planet” indeed.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I loved this: “a tattered sequined gown still worn with dignity and glory” Your beautiful writing is food to a hungry soul.

  5. David Wiegand says:

    Thank you for sharing these terrific photographs! Very much enjoyed them all!

  6. Thank you for sharing this with me…I can clearly see….you got it!

  7. I absolutely love this. The architecture is so amazing and you have to love the pups!

  8. Thanks for the tour! The mosaic home has a scaled down Watts Towers look to it. I have been looking at a tour of Cuba for the few months and this may push me into going.

  9. Derilyn says:

    I never realized Havana was that beautiful.Thank you for sharing all the photos.

    • The dogs are not protected. The dogs are dying of hunger, with fleas and ticks, ringworm and parasites. Many with mange. There is no vetinary care. Organizations from the USA and Canada help in sending medicines to help many animals in Cuba. Not the Cuban government. Dogs are taken and fed to the Zoo animals as those are also hungry and malnourished. It hurts me deeply to see how many people find it charming and not realize the cruel lack of freedom in the country!

  10. Cuba is a beautiful country and you entered a time warp. It was a stunningly beautiful country before Castro. The dictatorship removed the freedom of its people and caused the current “charming” decay of a rich country. Sad and humiliating to see how no one speaks of how many people have died and are in the prisons for speaking up for liberty and for human rights! Do not romanticize and educate yourselves to the reality of what a communist dictatorship has done.

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